So, You Want to Send Your Child to a Boarding School? Ask these Child Protection-focused Questions(3)

3rd Question: Is the school child protection-compliant? Releasing your child a boarding school must be a tough decision to make and it must be made in the best interest of the child. Protection of children is not something that we should pay cursory attention to. How do you know a boarding school is child protection compliant? I think the first attribute of a child protection conscious boarding school is a Child Protection Policy on which all the stakeholders in the community, including the child are trained on the implementation of same. It must not be a document, which best relevance is the decoration of one of the shelves in the head of school’s office. The policy must have provisions, which are peculiar to a boarding school. I will take time to shed light on some of these provisions in subsequent questions.

4th Question: What machinery do they have in place to give expression to the Child Protection Policy? One of the highpoints of a boarding school child protection policy is the qualifications, character and credibility of the house masters/mistress, who are with the children in the hostels. Does he or she have the track record of effectively protecting children? What is the policy’s recommendation for due diligence before hiring of someone into that very important position?  Is there commitment to the ‘two-adult rule’? That is no one adult must be with a child or children alone without the company of a colleague. For a mixed boarding school, it is the practice most of the time for the female to head female hostels and male heads male hostels but is that enough in view of bizarre cases of abuses rampant in boarding schools these days?  What is the tested supervision mechanism put in place as checks and balance to the house master/mistress? Some of the cases we have had to attend to are not only bizarre but disturbing. A case was reported of a house mistress in a big boarding school in Nigeria, who found faeces on the floor of the toilet. Claiming that she had warned the students, times without number on their toilet manners, she insisted that the children must taste the faeces with their mouth. One of the pupils refused and reported the matter to his parents. This sound stranger than fiction, but I tell you it is the truth. It happened. The parent, whose child was affected told me the story herself life and direct. Parents have to be careful and beware.

5th Question: Does the Child Protection Policy make clear reference to how to deal with health issues and emergencies? In recent times we have found cases where children have died in boarding schools as a result of one form of ailment or the other. In some of these cases parents have accused the school of negligence. The foregoing has raised critical questions about preventive and curative measures put in place by the boarding school authorities. The question has been asked if the school authority provides as simple as mosquito nets for the children to prevent malaria. The question has been asked to how equipped the schools sick bay is. It has also been on the front burner of discussions that the sick bay must have a clear list of the kind of ailment it can attend to and there should be a strong and accessible referral mechanism in place. Some have also toyed with the idea that a boarding school, depending on its population should be able to run a full-fledge medical clinic, well staffed with medical personnel like resident doctors and qualified nursing staff, who are able to respond, particularly in cases of emergency, which are inevitable in the boarding school. Some of the other issues which have been on the table concerning health care in the boarding school is the level of care attention available for a child. For example, if a child is ill, who does he/she talk to? If the child is taken to the hospital and put on medication, who ensures that the child faithfully adhere to his or her prescriptions, knowing that this is a critical part of the treatment? We all know that it can be a running battle getting children to take their medication for different reasons. Who monitors the child to ensure that the child returns to the sick bay or referred to a hospital if symptoms persist? At what point does the school bring the parents into the picture? If the child does not report that he or she is ill is there a vigilant caregiver, who is capable of spotting him or her and ensuring that he or she receives medical treatment?

One of the parents, who lost her daughter in a boarding school in Ogun State, submitted in her interview with The Vanguard newspaper, December 3, 2011 and I find her preventive suggestion instructive. Thus, though, it is copious, I decided to share it below. Please be instructed, there should be a doctor who visits weekly, one or two qualified resident nursing staff with adequate experience and a separate healthcare facility administration staff. Boarding schools should have a minimum of six observation beds per thousand pupils.

She continues, ‘the clinic should have a stethoscope and a thermometer; daily out-patient clinics including weekends, 24-hour emergency access, dental clinics or access to outside healthcare facility as well as the technology and medical equipment. There should be access to outside medical laboratory services and proper medical records. There should be drugs and medical supplies, a minimum stock of essentials such as bandages, disinfectants, anti-malaria, analgesics in the drug cupboard. The school should know the source, track its storage and use. Quality assurance processes must have protocols, guidelines and standard operating procedures for common health problems in place.’  

In conclusion she said, ‘there should be prompt notification of parents should pupils become ill. The school should have guidelines for contacting parents and providing information about referral to outside private or public hospitals, in the case of serious medical emergency.’

I think I should sign out here. Thank you for visiting today. Sure you learnt one or two things on how to Think the CHILD…Think TODAY and Think the FUTURE.

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